I’m not just another angry adoptee. But I am angry – here’s why, and what we can all do about it.
Last week I had an email from an adoptive parent saying it was difficult to understand why I am angry. I’ve been working on this blog all week to explain why, and I’ve also listed action points to encourage positive change, because as the author and researcher Brené Brown says,
“Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick…It’s an emotion that we need to transform into something life-giving: courage, love, change, compassion, justice.”
1. Because adoptees lack a voice
The majority of voices on adoption are from adoptive parents and adoption professionals. Adoptees have a much smaller share of the voice (and birth parents even less).
I’m angry because I’ve spent the first 40 years of my life turning all my feelings of confusion and shame inwards and it’s made me very ill. My greatest hope is that once all these feelings are out, acknowledged and normalised, I can go on to live a fulfilling and happy life.
Anger is an authentic feeling that many (not all) adoptees have, but it isn’t well represented. And however much I love my parents, I didn’t think the world needed another grateful adoptee blog!
2. Because adoptee grief often goes unacknowledged
Tell me of any other human loss as ignored as that of an adoptee? I lost my birth mother the day I was born, and I was told it didn’t matter. Only in the last year have I acknowledged I experienced bereavement, and I am now, belatedly, going through a grieving process.
I am not angry with my adoptive mum for loving me, cuddling me and raising me well. I am angry (and sad) she didn’t do all this while acknowledging my primal wound. The two need not be mutually exclusive.
Action point: Acknowledge an adoptee’s loss; read The Primal Wound
3. Because we lose our identity and our history
I not only lost my birth mother on day one, I lost all my biological relatives, my connected history and my original name. While the rest of the world fetishizes genetic links and blood ties – see the genealogy industry or programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? – what adoptees have lost goes unacknowledged.
We didn’t agree to forfeit our history so that it would be easier for our adoptive parents to bond with us, and easier for our birth parents to “get on with their lives”.
4. Because we struggle to retrieve our identities
After losing our identity, we later struggle to retrieve it. Even in the UK, where records are generally not sealed as they are in other parts of the world including the U.S. and Canada, things are not straightforward.
We still have to go cap-in-hand to ask for our adoption files, and spend money on searches and DNA testing to find out information that everyone else takes for granted. Many adoptees have little or no medical information, and many don’t even know the name they were given at birth. And yes, these things really do matter.
Action point: Support the fight to open all sealed records, by following hashtags such as #adopteerights and #flipthescript
5. Because many adoptees are second-class citizens
Many inter-country adoptees in places like the U.S. live in fear that they will be “sent back” to a country they have never lived in. These adoptees were taken as babies from countries such as China and South Korea. Last year, adoptee Phillip Clay killed himselfbecause he was deported from the U.S. to South Korea, a place where he knew no one and didn’t speak the language.
6. Because adoptees are expected to be grateful
Being told, even implicitly, to be grateful, can have a huge effect on self-worth and lead to a sense of shame. I was supposed to be delighted I had been “saved” from being brought up by a single mother with very little money. (It sounds a bit crazy in today’s times).
The adoptive parents as saviours is a dangerous narrative – no one else wanted you, but we “took you in” – and not least because it’s not the full picture. The truth can be much closer to: we wanted a child, so we took one from an unmarried woman (with her permission).
Action point: Challenge anyone who says adopted children are “lucky”. Learn about the damaging effects of shame so you can avoid inadvertently shaming your adoptive child
7. Because the societal narrative needs to be challenged
In the film Lion, when the protagonist meets his birth mum after 25 years, he immediately telephones his adoptive mum to reassure her she is still his mum. This societal narrative seems to be the only palatable one, making it incredibly hard for adoptees to express anything else.
When I told someone I had searched for my biological relatives, she said: “After everything your parents did for you? Taking you in and raising you ‘as their own’…” This same woman had recently built a house in Jamaica – a place she had never lived – because her dad grew up there. So it’s OK for everybody else to know and honour their roots, but not adoptees?
Action point: Support adoptees who show the other sides of adoption though art, poetry and theatre, such as YOU a play by Mark Wilson.
8. Because adoptees lack support
There is some (not enough) support for young adoptees today. There is next to no support for older adoptees. We cope with trauma and attachment issues alone. The support around reunion is woefully inadequate and unless you are affluent you cannot access private counselling.
Action point: If you have a partner, child, sibling or friend who is adopted, take the time to learn about life-long effects of adoption and how you can help them make sense of their story, feel good about themselves and heal trauma.
Champion adoptee support groups, or start one of your own. Adoptees On recently covered this topic.
9. Because adoption reunion is so hard
My parents stood beside me when I graduated, got my first job, got married and had my children. But they were noticeably absent during the other major milestone in my life: adoption reunion.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to cope with and I had to do it alone. I had their verbal support, but without any concrete help I felt hugely guilty every step of the way. I’m angry (and sad) it had to be this way.
Soap operas and programmes like Long Lost Familymake it difficult to approach reunion on an equal footing. The former portray adoptees as stray and feral, and usually after money, the latter show adoptees in isolation, with their family and friends conveniently airbrushed away. It is so much more complex.
10. Because the system is broken
Too many young adoptees have birth parents who have experience of the Care system. It’s unacceptable that these traumatised young people are not given the right support and instead go on to have traumatised children themselves. Birth parents are not “other”, we are all connected.
Action point: Push for support for birth parents, including parents living without their children, and champion amazing organisations like The Open Nest.
So there you have it, a starter for ten on why I am so flippin’ angry. No, it’s not the healthiest of emotions but it’s a damn sight healthier and less soul-crushing than shame.
***If I have left out any organisations, initiatives or campaigns please let me know and I will amend the blog immediately.***
*For disclosure I am an older adoptee, so when I talk about the established narrative, it’s the “babies are blank slates” mentality of the 1970s; this is sometimes referred to as the ‘Baby Scoop’ era in America and Canada. I have close experience of the current UK adoption process including the advances in understanding of trauma and attachment, and the trend towards more open adoptions, with some level of (usually indirect) contact.